Meet the Women Who Make Your Clothes

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©. Remake -- Char Wong sews for brands including Zara, H&M;, and Tommy Hilfiger. She says: "Learning complex designs is very difficult and we get no training. I typically make $5 a day, but with the more complex designs, I only make $2 a day."

A group called Remake wants fast fashion to fall out of fashion, by revealing underprivileged garment workers to the world.

Clothes do not spontaneously generate on store shelves. They are made by humans, mostly in distant Asian garment factories. These humans have names, families, homes, and dreams, but they toil long hours under intense scrutiny for minimal pay so that buyers in America and other places can buy new clothes for next to nothing.

It is estimated that a hundred pairs of hands touch each item of clothing before it reaches its new owner – a distressing thought when you think about how little these clothes cost. A $5 shirt or a $25 pair of jeans, divided among the many hands that have contributed to its creation, means, quite literally, pennies for its makers.

This is fast fashion.

“The designer thinking about the blouse is disconnected from the sourcing exec who is worried about the price and quality and is even further removed from the young women and men sitting in Haiti or Pakistan stitching a collar. By the time we get the blouse, we... have no idea how much human effort has gone into it.”

A U.S.-based group called Remake wants to change this business model because it knows that fast fashion is unsustainable and unethical. It’s not good for the garment makers, who are devalued, demeaned, and demanded to meet unbelievably challenging quotas; nor is it good for the wealthier buyers – we North Americans – who should feel good about our purchases and know they’ve benefited, not compromised, their makers.

denim in Cambodian factory

© Remake - "How are your jeans made?"

Remake's primary focus is on connecting women. The vast majority (97 percent) of U.S.-sold clothes are made overseas, and 80 percent of those garment makers are young females between 18 and 24 years of age. At the other end of the spectrum, many young women in the United States drive a big chunk of the fashion industry, both as shoppers and as burgeoning designers.

“[Remake] isn’t about shaming the fashion industry for building a broken business model. It’s about linking the amazing women on either end of the supply chain – designer and maker – to come face to face, woman to woman, to create a more human centered fashion industry.”

It strives to humanize garment workers by sending young female fashion graduates to meet face-to-face with garment workers, as part of a series called “Meet the Maker.” The resulting interviews with Indian rug-makers, Cambodian denim-makers, and Chinese fabric-makers are fascinating, revealing, and often very sad.

“My main job is to look for defects in the fabric. For 12 hours a day, I stare at fabric ensuring that it’s perfect. At night, I dream of doing something I am scared of, like bungee jumping. I would love to meet the woman who wears the fabric I stare at all day long. I bet you look cool!” – Zheng Ming Hui

Remake publishes short video clips and infographics to spread awareness about our purchasing decisions can affect others in distant countries. For example, the following "Made in India" video shows how parents, if paid enough, can afford to send their children to school, instead of putting them to work in cotton fields.

Remake provides ‘Buy Better’ shopping guides to make ethical purchasing as easy as possible. (TreeHugger has profiled many wonderful fashion companies over the years, so be sure to visit our archives.)

Ultimately, Remake wants to make fast fashion uncool. It wants people to understand and to take a stand, to ask the tough questions about sourcing that our favorite brands need to hear in order to know that we care about makers.